Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Acknowledging the grim reality - Iraq’s growing refugee emergency

By Kim Huynh - posted Monday, 30 April 2007

The fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq and the fall of Baghdad passed with little mention of the growing human “displacement crisis” in the region. Nowhere in the world are refugee numbers growing at a faster rate.

The United Nations estimates 100,000 people are fleeing the country every month. About two million Iraqi refugees are now sheltering in neighbouring countries, the majority having fled since the downfall of Saddam. Iraq is haemorrhaging refugees.

Displacement inside the country is occurring on an equally horrific scale as the civil war forces people to flee from their homes: 727,000 Iraqis are thought to have been displaced within the country since February 2006 when the Samarra Shrine was bombed leading to a massive outbreak of sectarian violence.


The diverse character of the refugees and displaced people reflects the all-against-all nature of the war and deepening divisions in the country. Sunni are being expelled from Shia areas as Shia are expelled from Sunni dominated regions. Christians and Mandeans are increasingly under threat of attack. Kurds are accepting some of the displaced people moving north to escape the violence, even as they persecute and push out Arab-Iraqis who Saddam encouraged to move to Kurdistan. The Sudanese, Palestinian and Somali minorities who once found some protection in Iraq are no longer welcome.

Many of those who have made it out of the country are wealthy and skilled professionals, the very sort of people necessary for a successful post-war reconstruction.

Syria and Jordan, where 90 per cent of Iraqi refugees reside, have generally maintained an “open door policy” in the name of Pan Arabism. But the sheer number of bodies crossing the borders means that their hospitality is wearing thin. Neither of these two countries has signed the 1951 Refugee Convention prohibiting returning or refouling refugees to their countries of origin where this places them in grave danger. Iraqi refugees live in constant fear of deportation.

The United Nations and Non-Government Organisations have been hampered by a lack of political and financial support from the Iraqi and US administrations, both of which are reluctant to declare a state of emergency in the country.

As a consequence, very little international money has been dedicated to providing immediate assistance to refugees and displaced people. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which has primary responsibility for the displaced people in the Kurdish and southern regions of the country operates with a pitiful budget of $US 8-9 million.

One frustrated UNHCR official recently asserted that $US150 million would not be enough to provide for the basic needs of those in flight.


Assisting Iraqi refugees and displaced people is critical for more than just humanitarian reasons. A recent report from the Brookings Institution refers to Iraqi refugees as potential “carriers of conflict” and points to the danger of the war spilling over to engulf the region.

It is common for displaced people to seek revenge against the leaders and regimes that forced them away from their homes. Those who have been “warehoused” for years and even generations without any prospect of resettlement or return can become refugee warriors and even terrorists. In the absence of hope, refugee camps are sites for festering hatreds and the perpetuation of violence.

To acknowledge this grim reality is not to suggest that Iraq is doomed to collapse and should be abandoned. On the contrary, the desperate situation of the displaced people in the region offers an opportunity for the coalition of the willing and other concerned nations to make the most of a bad situation.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

8 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Dr Kim Huynh teaches Refugee Politics at the Australian National University. His chapter “Us and them: National identity and the question of ‘belonging’”, appears in The Culture Wars: Australian And American Politics In The 21st Century.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Kim Huynh

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Kim Huynh
Article Tools
Comment 8 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy